16.6.09

PAST MASTERS#5

More from our series on ex-professionals with the focus on a player who is perhaps better known for his chairmanship of the game's governing body...

Without Rex Williams, professional snooker may never have enjoyed the revival that led to the birth of the circuit as we know it today.

The game had withered in the 1950s and the World Championship was not staged from 1957 until 1964 when Williams, ambitious and enthusiastic, marshalled various forces to get it back on as a series of challenge matches.

The defending champion, John Pulman, first played – and beat – Fred Davis and then Williams himself over six weeks in South Africa. One night, the crowd was pretty much non existent so they flipped a coin rather than play the match.

The following year, Williams compiled a 147 in an exhibition, believed to be only the second constructed following Joe Davis’s maximum in 1955.

The challenge format ended in 1968 and the following year the modern era began as the World Championship reverted to the knockout system still used today.

Williams’s best chance to be champion came in 1972 when he was 30-30 with Alex Higgins in the semi-finals. In the deciding frame, he missed a simple blue with the balls at his mercy. Had he not done so, the entire course of subsequent snooker history may have been very different but, as it was, Higgins won frame and match and then the title.

Williams entered the first ever ranking list in sixth place and is one of only two players, the other being Joe Swail, to have dropped out of the top 16 and top 32 and then rejoined the top 16.

He did so in 1986 and that season became, at 53, the oldest player ever to reach a ranking event final at the Grand Prix in Reading. Williams led Jimmy White 5-3 but was eventually beaten 10-6.

Four years later at the age of 57 he reached what proved to be his last ranking event quarter-final at the Dubai Classic.

Williams played at the Crucible eight times but never won a match, an unwanted record he shares with Cliff Wilson. In 1984, he made the highest break of the championship, 138.

He served as a BBC commentator – and was in the box for Cliff Thorburn’s historic Crucible 147 in 1983 – before switching to ITV.

Williams was also chairman of the WPBSA, the game’s governing body, and attracted criticism from those who saw his management style as autocratic.

He was a good front man, always well turned out and professional, but seemed to have a hard time believing anyone could form the opposite point of view to the one he held.

Williams was the WPBSA's first chairman before resigning in 1987 in the wake of the beta blockers controversy. The then sports minister, Colin Moynihan, had described taking them as “tantamount to cheating.” Williams himself admitted to using beta blockers.

He was elected chairman again in 1997. All was well until, in December of that year, he fired Jim McKenzie, the WPBSA chief executive, a decision which (whether justified or not) led to a long running civil war for control of the sport that almost left it bankrupt.

Williams survived a series of knife-edge votes in AGMs and EGMs but was finally ousted in September 1999.

Despite all this, Williams could be good company, with a wealth of stories about snooker in the days before it became a major television attraction.

He prided himself on his appearance. Once on a tour of China with Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable of players he took part in a trip up the Great Wall.

Williams turned up wearing a very expensive cashmere coat. When Hearn said to him that the dress code was supposed to be casual, he replied, “Dear boy, this is casual.”

He was a fine billiards player and won the World Championship in the three ball game seven times between 1968 and 1983.

Williams is now retired from playing any role in billiards or snooker. He will be 76 next month.

10 comments:

jamie said...

Off topic, but I was wondering how much you advertise your blog? I ask as I have just set up a blog myself about live music. Interesting that some players read it, I wouldnt if I was them as some off the comments are just unconstructive. I wonder if any post anoynmously.

Anonymous said...

Good old Rex, surely Dave one of his greatest achievements has been omitted? Wasn't the Rex Williams cue the cue of choice for a certain Scottish multi-world champion?

Anonymous said...

Sexy Rexy was very proud to have his name on that cue!

Anonymous said...

If Rex was still running snooker we wouldn't be in the mess we are now. He would be able to keep a decent number of tournaments running and attract the sponsorship. A snooker man who knew what was right for the game.

Anonymous said...

@Jamie

Is this your blog? http://jamie-thepit.blogspot.com/

Some great articles on there - you'll go far!

Anonymous said...

I remember the outcry with the beta-blockers.

IIRC, Rex was asked to give a urine sample, but refused. He was challenged by the authorities on several occasions to either admit or deny the allegations. He couldn't continue to deny the claims as there was allegedly evidence that could prove he was using them, hence his resignation.

Anonymous said...

3.10

i have to aplaud the work done by Rex to get the circuit up and running in the 60s to 70s and the game owes a lot to the man but like so many Rex was as guilty as anyone for the problams of today.

He was chairman in the mid to late 90s and the camplacement of that administration is partly to blame for the shambles of today.

Anonymous said...

some players do read this blog and some have posted on it too, but i am not sure how regular that occurence is

Anonymous said...

He was also chairman, and/or a director, of Rex Williams Lesiure Plc. As far as I recall it subsequently went belly up I am not sure he was still involved but no mean feat to be a player, administrator and to set up a company involved in cues and the like which was floated on stock market.

Bryn said...

Another good article here, a nice balance is achieved of a man who is multifaceted. Both a positive and negative force, I thought his skill on the table was always something to be watched and yes, I always got the impression that over a few single malts he would be very good company.